Distracted While Writing—Don’t Be a Victim

Photo of a woman in an office environment at her desk, starting off into space with a grin. She is deep in thought.
Distracted while writing. (Photo: Kirill Kedrinski)

If you can sit at a coffeehouse and pump out pages of writing even while caffeinated pandemonium rages about you, you can skip this blog post.

This post is for those folks, like me, who need to cultivate concentration.

You can minimize distractions by preparing before you start to write.

  • Clear Your Workspace: Do you have piles of stuff on your desk? Here’s a wake-up call: It’s not always a sure sign of creativity. In fact, it can prevent you from focusing on your ideas. A decluttered workspace prevents your eyes from straying from the screen, and it eliminates at least one major procrastination habit—that default behavior of cleaning up your desk instead of writing.
  • Are You Sitting Comfortably? Good workspace ergonomics don’t just reduce work-related injuries; they focus your attention on the writing task at hand. Make sure your chair is comfortable, your hands rest easily at your keyboard, and you can easily see your screen without leaning into it.
  • Reservations for One, Please: Before you start your writing, let everyone know you’re going to be busy—and designate a specific period of time. Turn off your phone; quit all other programs on your computer. Make the commitment that this time is only for your writing.

Close Your Eyes and Ears to the Outside World

There might not be much you can do about the busy street or bustling environment next to your writing space. You can’t make it go away—but you can decrease the distraction it causes.

  • Music Hath Charms: Use music to drown out outside noises and create an environment that encourages creativity and focus. Choose music that doesn’t put words in your head or interfere with the work of writing. Consider classical music, which because of its melody and rhythm can affect the brain’s organization and abilities. The rhythm raises the level of serotonin produced in your brain. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter, involved in the transmission of nerve impulses that help you maintain joyous feelings. When the brain produces serotonin, tension is eased.
  • Stick It in Your Ear: A pair of good headphones that cancel sounds will block an amazing amount of distractions. You can opt for sounds of nature or even white noise (see below).
  • White or Pink Noise: Think of white noise as 20,000 tones all playing at the same time. Because white noise contains all frequencies, it is frequently used to mask other sounds. Pink noise is similar, but it has more low-frequency components. To the ear, they sound like static; played at low volume, they can fade into the background and do a good job of blocking outside noises.
  • Reading Glasses—Even if You Don’t Need Them to Read: Low-powered (try a pair at around +1.00) reading glasses will keep your eyes focused at a short range and minimize your peripheral vision, thus muting any visual distractions.

Distraction can be used creatively to move you in different directions when you’re stuck in a writing rut.

Don’t always reach for ways to diminish it—unless it’s truly preventing you from getting your ideas into that Microsoft Word file.

Dave Baker

View posts by Dave Baker
Hi, I'm Dave Baker, founder and copy chief of Super Copy Editors. I have more than two decades of professional proofreading and copy editing experience, including work for The Nation magazine, The New York Times, and The Times-Picayune of New Orleans, where I shared two staff Pulitzer Prizes after Hurricane Katrina. Today, I have put together a hand-picked team of copy editors, and we especially love working with ad agencies, marketing departments, and education companies to make their text as polished as possible. Learn more here.

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